Robots still need a human hand behind them

Although the number of jobs created through technological advancement may not be enough to replace the jobs that are made redundant, there is scope for humans and robots to work hand in glove (Technology makes up for loss of manpower, by Ms Che Pei Chin; Sept 11).

Powerful new technologies are increasingly adopted not only in mundane and repetitive tasks, but also in hospital operating theatres.

Robots are more accurate and objective than the average surgeon and can guard against human error.

The ability of autonomous robots to identify where orthopaedic surgeons should insert screws into the knee, hip or spine joints is a boon to the latter.

Robots are also currently assisting in between 20 per cent and 40 per cent of knee operations.

However, although ultra-precise robots may make good surgeons and conduct minimally invasive surgery, they owe their success to the surgeon, who sits in a booth to operate the robot.

Machines can enable surgeons to arrive at better outcomes, but robots cannot make decisions based on intuition, sound reasoning or moral judgment.

Some robots may be able to sew more evenly and consistently than the surgeon, but they still depend on the surgeon's years of training and experience to make the initial incision and line up the wound before suturing can take place.

Machines can enable surgeons to arrive at better outcomes, but robots cannot make decisions based on intuition, sound reasoning or moral judgment.

Surgeons can concentrate on enhancing their personal value and adapting their skills to leverage on the strengths of non-human partners.

For instance, they can use their high-level cognitive ability to anticipate which areas of work will be automated.

This is the pathway to prolonging a surgeon's career.

Of course, there will be a segment of patients who still prefer conventional surgery to robotic surgery, perhaps because of the cost.

This option should not be denied to them. Our surgeons must not stop perfecting their skills or become overdependent on technology.

Edmund Khoo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2017, with the headline 'Robots still need a human hand behind them'. Print Edition | Subscribe